Welcome to Things That Keep Me Up At Night, a semi-regular feature in which I discuss things in librarianship that I’m thinking about. Some are big, some are small, but all are things I take seriously.
We’ve been trying our second round of having a digital storytime (a storytime where we use an iPad to tell stories and flannel boards and sing songs) at my library. The first round was not very popular, attendance-wise. But the people who did come absolutely LOVED the program, so we decided to rename it and try again. So far, we’ve had more attendance (our first program was last month), and again, the people who came loved it. But I have found that the program does not excite a lot of our parents because they are concerned about something that also concerns me: screen time.
The online Oxford Dictionaries defines screen time as “Time spent using a device such as a computer, television, or games console.” I would add phones and tablets to this definition, as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2 and only 1-2 hours a day for children ages 2-5.
With these guidelines, and because I work in a community that is concerned about screen time, I’ve never been sure of how to view digital storytimes. In my mind, there are two ways of looking at them. One: we model how parents can use devices in an enriching way with their children, just like we do in normal storytimes where we model ways that parents can continue using the early literacy practices at home. Or, the less positive way of looking at it: We know the research, but offer yet another screen for our kiddos to look at, even when research shows significant problems associated with screen time like obesity, behavioral issues, sleep problems, and more.
Thinking Realistically About the Screen
While I think the AAP’s guidelines on screen time make sense, I also know a lot of parents. And from talking to parents, for many (most?) of them this advice is impossible. I also struggle with adding yet another layer of guilt onto modern parenting. Case in point: one of my friends (a mother of two children under the age of 2) called me the other day and asked me if she was a bad mother because she had put a music video on repeat for her toddler so that she could fix her toddler’s dinner, and feed her baby. The fact that parents even have to ask themselves these questions is sad. The fact that parenthood (from the second of conception, really) is already filled with huge lists of do’s and don’ts that come attached to dire warnings about your child’s future happiness, makes me very reluctant to spend time judging parents for their screen time use. However, I also think they should know the information. Being informed can, at the very least, help you know that screen time is something to be aware of, to be engaged with, and to build guidelines around.
There’s another practicality to think about–adults spend way more than the recommended amount of time using screens. There’s surprisingly little research on how much screen time adults have (or should have) per day (interesting that we seem a lot less interested in studying how that affects adults), but this 2009 study from the Council for Research Excellence puts the number at over 8 hours a day for adults across all age ranges. Our lives are increasingly filled with screens.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about digital storytimes, and I’ve decided I’m in the camp that believes digital storytimes can help parents navigate the intricacies of the new technological world, and think carefully about how they use screens at home. Our digital storytimes are interactive. They are fun. They are just like regular storytime, actually. We talk, laugh, sing, read, and interact. And I’ve seen kiddos that are really quiet and shy in our huge and overwhelming toddler storytimes blossom during our smaller digital storytimes. They are engaged, calling out answers, and excited about what they are learning. We are all engaged and talking about what we are seeing. We are the epitome of active screen time, rather than passive screen time.
I recognize that the jury is still out on screens and whether they can provide educational benefits. And I do believe that interacting one-on-one with a child, sans screen, will always be the best way to help a child learn, grow, and foster development. But I’m also a pragmatist. Screens are here. They are part of all our lives, and that includes our parents’ lives. Most parents are going to be unable to completely disconnect, so how can we use our knowledge to meet our communities where they are and share what we know about screen time in the least judgmental and most helpful way possible?
I’d love to hear what you think about this–let me know in the comments!